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Jo

Not a fan of memoirs? I like the 18th century lit moment of "THIS IS REAL!" like the numerous introductions to Robinson Crusoe and etc. I've been interested in how memoir-writing is often different between the sexes. How one is prioritized, how women's lives are not welcome for contemplation in the same manner.

badgerbag

No, I do like memoirs, even the kind I'm talking about above, actually and one of the things I value about them is that they are meant to be one of a giant weight of testimonies that tip the scales against there being any "official story" or official history. And I do like the 18th cent. stuff, and diaries etc. but what I was talking about is the 90% of the stuff I hear at "spoken word" events. On one level they are attempts to lay out and to complicate identity politics. It's... it's the idea that somehow they're automatically literary, or good, because they are true.

Jo

Yes, I have a relative who travels all the time, and then writes it up in turgid prose about where they ate and whether or not they made it on time to the train. Very. Very. Dull.

badgerbag

Think how much worse it could be if him making it on time to the train was also linked to how his dad (who was from Wisconsin but who had some tattered remnants of ethnicity from somewhere) used to beat him and now is dead alas hooray. And how the train schedule made him think about how, when he was a teenager, he used to masturbate while thinking of Howdy Doody. That's the kind of testimony I'm talking about!

Aaagh, I keep making fun of it, but it also seems necessary to respect it but something is suspicious about it, like making "I-statements". It's not that I don't write it too, you know.

What if we are all writing this stuff out of imperialist guilt? They're like reverse maoist self-criticisms -- they're desperate claims of individual innocence before an imagined judge.

Jo

But then again, some of it is extremely fascinating, like Tobias Wolfe and I'm blanking on the guy's name, the guy with the Heartbreaking Work of Staggering? Ultimately and inevitably they seems to set themselves up with this kind of martyr complex. It's like, "Can I get a witness? And then look how smart I am anyway!"

Chula

I think what you're really talking about here is not conventional memoir writing, which is often layered with literary devices, but zine-style memoirs, which are what you'll mostly hear at open mic events. These are often beautiful, touching, and hilarious -- but not always so layered.

Have you read Lauren Slater's Lying yet? You'd really enjoy it!

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